Treaty of Tripoli

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The Treaty of Tripoli references the first treaty between the United States and Tripoli, signed in 1796 and ratified in 1797 under then President John Adams. It is often used in support of the case for the United States founders' position with regard to church-state separation.

Article 11 reads as follows:

"Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.[1]"

In terms of contention, there is little reason to believe that the article was controversial. The ratification passed the senate unanimously by the 23 senators present for the vote.


Counter arguments

Out of context

Apologists argue the quote is taken out of context. At the time, America was suffering from pirate attacks on merchant shipping. The treaty might have tried to stress that the conflict as non-religious for diplomatic reasons.

"the portion of a line that they invoke actually strengthens rather than weakens the claim that America was a Christian nation. [...] In those treaties, America inserted various declarations attempting to convince the Muslims that as Christians, we were not pursuing a “jihad” against them[2]"

Just because there might be an advantage to declaring the United States as having a secular government doesn't mean it is factually correct. The treaty could have simply stated that the United States was not anti-Muslim and achieved the same effect.

Not in the original treaty

Apologists sometimes assert that the article is not in the Arabic version of the treaty. However, all indications are that it was in the version ratified by the US government, which is what makes it significant.

"The current modern Treaty of Tripoli so prevalent on the internet and many books and booklets, is totally fraud, a deliberate document of deceit, absolutely false, a complete forgery[3]"
"In recent years, some “Christian nation” advocates have argued that Article 11 never appeared in the treaty. They base the claim on research conducted by a Dutch scholar, Dr. C. Snouk Hurgronje, published in The Christian Statesman in 1930. Hurgronje located the only surviving Arabic copy of the treaty and found that when translated, Article 11 was actually a letter, mostly gibberish, from the dey of Algiers to the ruler of Tripoli.[4]"

Christian individuals' involved in the treaty

"[Dawkins] attempts to paint as irreligious the American envoy who negotiated and signed the treaty, Joel Barlow, on the basis of Barlow’s book Advice to the Privileged Orders (1793).[5]"

The treaty was approved by the US federal government. The opinions of Barlow are not really relevant.


  1. [1]
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  3. [3]
  4. [4]
  5. [5]
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